Skills for Graduate Student Success

Skills for Graduate Student Success

The following article is taken from the Aggie 201 module. 

Successful graduate students come from all backgrounds and perspectives, but they usually have a few things in common. 

Here are five common skills that contribute to graduate student's success:

Time Management Skills

Time management is one of the most critical components of graduate school success while being one of the most challenging aspects to master. In your first year alone, you will be expected to navigate seemingly endless and complex responsibilities that require a level of time management beyond what many new grad students have experienced.

Here are some tips to help you manage your time:

Self Awareness, Self Care, and Self Compassion

It’s easy to feel like you can’t invest energy in self-care during graduate school or that you’re tough enough to ignore the pressures. However, students who have the self-awareness to recognize when and why they’re struggling, and who can put self-care on their priority list, are much more likely to succeed.

You are important and you are the best advocate for your needs.

It is okay if you fail. It is part of the journey. Try not to be so hard on yourself or get caught in disappointment.

Good Communication & Networking

Successful grad students are proactive communicators, even and especially when they’re struggling. It’s not possible to navigate graduate school on your own, and having a network of colleagues and advisors can help you through the most challenging days. 

It may seem daunting to reach out to faculty, colleagues, and Graduate Studies, but we encourage you to reach out whenever you're feeling overwhelmed or in need of support. 

Being Proactive

Many successful graduate students take responsibility for their own graduate school experience.

Think about what you really want from graduate school, and identify opportunities to attain those goals.

Continue the mental transition from being told what to do, to deciding what to do.

Don’t wait for faculty members to come find you. Take the initiative and build relationships with faculty.

Establish study groups or peer support accountability groups.

Seek out the many resources on campus that can help you through the tough times. Consider joining the Graduate Student Organization


There may be days where you ask yourself, “why did I even go to grad school?”

Your passion for your research, professional goals, education, and self-improvement brought you here and can motivate you to keep going and earn those letters behind your name. UC Davis graduate students go on to do world-saving work, and you can too!

Try This: 

  1. While they’re still fresh in your mind, write down the reasons you came here and what you want to do with your graduate education. 
  2. Try to update your reasons as your research and goals evolve, and reference them when you’re struggling to stay focused.